White men leading in Dem polls raises issue of double standard

Less than a year after women altered the political landscape and helped win back the House, some Democrats are voicing disappointment that presidential bids launched by women haven’t completely taken off.

Six Democratic women are running for president in a dramatic increase from previous years. But just one, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump and Biden vie for Minnesota | Early voting begins in four states | Blue state GOP governors back Susan Collins Kamala Harris: Black Americans have been 'disproportionately harmed' by Trump Biden town hall draws 3.3 million viewers for CNN MORE (D-Calif.), is in the top tier of the 18 candidates in the race.

And Harris is just outside the very top tier of the race, according to polls that consistently show former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSenate Republicans face tough decision on replacing Ginsburg What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies Biden says Ginsburg successor should be picked by candidate who wins on Nov. 3 MORE, who has yet to enter the contest, and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersKenosha will be a good bellwether in 2020 Biden's fiscal program: What is the likely market impact? McConnell accuses Democrats of sowing division by 'downplaying progress' on election security MORE (I-Vt.) at the very top of the pyramid.

ADVERTISEMENT

Harris, who raised more than $12 million in the first quarter, does appear to be clearly in the top four of the emerging race, along with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas).

But that means three of the top four candidates in most polls are white men, leaving a number of other high-profile women candidates behind.

“A few months ago, I imagined the top tier looking very different, especially after the 2018 midterm wins and the ‘Me Too’ movement,” one female Democratic strategist said. “It’s still early, but it is a little frustrating.”

Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden's fiscal program: What is the likely market impact? Warren, Schumer introduce plan for next president to cancel ,000 in student debt The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Don't expect a government check anytime soon MORE (Mass.) Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - White House moves closer to Pelosi on virus relief bill EPA delivers win for ethanol industry angered by waivers to refiners It's time for newspapers to stop endorsing presidential candidates MORE (Minn.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSuburban moms are going to decide the 2020 election Jon Stewart urges Congress to help veterans exposed to burn pits The Hill's Campaign Report: 19 years since 9/11 | Dem rival to Marjorie Taylor Greene drops out | Collin Peterson faces fight of his career | Court delivers blow to ex-felon voting rights in Florida MORE (N.Y.) have not been as competitive in the polls or in fundraising thus far in the race. Neither has Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardRepublicans call on DOJ to investigate Netflix over 'Cuties' film Hispanic Caucus campaign arm endorses slate of non-Hispanic candidates Gabbard says she 'was not invited to participate in any way' in Democratic convention MORE (D-Hawaii) or author Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson discusses speaking at People's Party Convention Fewer people watched opening night of Democratic convention compared to 2016 Marianne Williamson: Democratic convention 'like binge watching a Marriott commercial' MORE.

Warren, who last year was widely seen as a potential front-runner, announced Wednesday that her campaign had raised $6 million in the first quarter — less than Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegBipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Bogeymen of the far left deserve a place in any Biden administration Overnight Defense: Woodward book causes new firestorm | Book says Trump lashed out at generals, told Woodward about secret weapons system | US withdrawing thousands of troops from Iraq MORE, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Buttigieg was a political unknown months ago, and is another white man who appears close to breaking into the top tier of candidates.

Democratic strategist Jim Manley counts himself as surprised and cautions that much could change in the coming months. At the same time, he said “the reality is a lot of these women aren’t seeing much traction right now.”

Manley said he has been particularly impressed by Warren and the nuanced policy proposals she has put forth. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“She’s breaking a lot of ground with solid policy proposals and she isn’t getting a lot of traction out of it, but it is still early,” he said.

Some political strategists argue that female candidates such as Warren are being hurt by a political double standard that treats men and women differently.

“I think a lot of what’s happening is despite gains that women have made, they’re still dealing with a lot of latent sexism and double standards both from how voters perceive them and how they’re covered,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale. “When one of the male candidates does something intellectual they are smart and new, but when one of the female candidates [talks about their policies], they’re too bland or wonky to connect with voters.”

A study by Northwestern University out late last month showed that female candidates in 2020 “are consistently being described in the media more negatively than their male counterparts.”

The study, which examined 130 news articles from mainstream media outlets, concluded it’s a “disconcerting trend” in 2020 election coverage.

Each of the women running for president has been mired in mini-controversies, some of which have drawn accusations of sexism.

Klobuchar faced a rash of negative headlines after former aides accused her of being a mean-spirited boss — something her defenders said would not have been an issue with a male boss.

Warren has had to deal with the fallout of her release of DNA testing to back her claims of Native American ancestry. Gillibrand has had to deal with brushback from Democrats who accused her of leading the charge in former Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenGOP Senate candidate says Trump, Republicans will surprise in Minnesota Peterson faces fight of his career in deep-red Minnesota district Getting tight — the psychology of cancel culture MORE’s (D-Minn.) resignation.

“I am certainly concerned with the way that the media has been covering the women candidates versus the male candidates,” said Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist who worked for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhat Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies Bipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Trump carries on with rally, unaware of Ginsburg's death MORE’s 2016 presidential campaign. “The press seems to spend time on the idiosyncrasies around the male candidates that they find charming but they don’t provide parallel coverage when it comes to females.”

“There’s so much focus on jumping on tables and an endearing Brooklyn accent and another candidate’s avuncular style of campaigning versus Elizabeth Warren’s policy chops and Kamala Harris’s record as a prosecutor. There’s definitely a double standard,” Petkanas added. 

Some observers also wonder if the polls are reflecting anxiety among Democrats over nominating a woman the cycle after Clinton’s loss to President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE.

“I hate to say it, but as 2016 showed us, misogyny is alive and well,” said Katherine Jellison, a professor of history at Ohio University and a scholar of women’s studies.

“For some reason, when some people think of a president, they still think of a white male,” Jellison added. “It’s an image they carry around in their conscious or even subconscious mind.”

Petkanas said the race is still young. He said he expects the standings to look much different in the lead-up to the early state caucuses and primaries.

“Anyone who is counting out the women in this race has not learned any lesson from 2018,” he said